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Colunga Earns State Medal
3-6 OAK Wrestling Colunga
Oakdales Nico Colunga, shown here during a win in the SJS team dual finals, rallied to an eighth-place medal at the state tournament on Saturday. - photo by IKE DODSON/THE LEADER

The state medal draped around the neck of Oakdale High sophomore Nico Colunga couldn’t fit better if it was sized and measured at the Men’s Wearhouse.

I guarantee it.

The smallest wrestler in Oakdale’s wrestling lineup came up huge on the biggest stage of competition by landing a surprising eighth-place medal at the 2013 California Interscholastic Federation Wrestling State Championships on Saturday at the Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield.

Colunga, ranked just 16th in the state by the California Wrestling Newsletter at 106, beat higher-ranked wrestlers in two pivotal matches to guarantee a top-eight finish.

“Nico knew he would have to battle and have the matches of his life, and he just pulled it out,” Oakdale coach Brian Stevens said. “He did whatever it took to win and it was awesome to watch.”

Colunga put Oakdale back on the medal podium a year after the team failed to win state hardware for the first time in 10 years. Mustang senior Ronnie Stevens (120) went 3-2 to nearly accomplish the same feat, but was bested 1-0 in the second-day consolation bracket and settled for top-12.

Trevor Williams (113), Max Stevens (126) and Eric Barragan (285) each won one match at state while Zack Fallentine (220) was 0-2 at the elite tourney.

Colunga’s road to a state medal started brilliantly, when late points forced overtime with No. 5 ranked Matt Gamble of Monache in the second round. Colunga stayed alive in the championship bracket with an overtime takedown amidst a scramble, then reached the quarterfinals with a 7-3 win over Northern Section champion, Morgan Sauseda of Chico.

He was pinned in his next bout, but fired back with a stunning pin over eighth-ranked Joey Cisneros of Redwood in his first round of consolation. Colunga would lose his next two matches to Vincent Elizalde of Brawley (placed third) and Tirso Lara of Poway to finish eighth.

Colunga is one of only two underclassmen to medal at 106. Durbin Lloren of Buchanan (freshman) was fifth.

“Nico really dedicated himself this season,” coach Stevens said. “He did a lot of cutting weight, running and lifting.”

Colunga has the opportunity to vie for another medal in 2014. He won’t do it for Stevens, though, who is retiring from an illustrious coaching stanza that began in 2005.

Coach Stevens said he will still be heavily involved with team, but will surrender the head-coaching duties to his replacement (expected to be Oakdale Unified teacher and current assistant coach Steve Strange). Stevens’ son Max will be a junior next year.

“I’m still going to be around as much as I am now,” coach Stevens admitted. “I’m sure I will still be there five days a week, but I have been doing it for a while.

“I’m still excited and ready to come back and work on things to make the team better.”

Oakdale graduates seven of the 14 wrestlers who led Oakdale to a Division IV Sac-Joaquin Section championship, but has a deep cast of wrestlers who could have easily been varsity on other teams, and will see some nice additions from a stalwart club program.

Oakdale has six 7th and 8th graders ranked on the California Wrestling Newsletter Middle School Rankings.

“We have a bunch of good kids coming in next year and a lot of good guys returning,” Stevens said. “Next year should be a different type of team.

“Oakdale is still going to be tough for quite a while.”